A Federal High Court in Lagos has given the police approval to resume the investigation and prosecution of the alleged N170 million Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) contract fraud involving four top officials of Zinox Technologies Limited and its affiliate, Technology Distributions (TD) Limited.

 

The trial judge Justice, Tijani Garba Ringim dismissed an application by the Managing Director of Technology Distributions Ltd., Mrs. Chioma Ekeh, Mr. Chris Eze Ozims, Mrs. Folashade Oyebode and Mr. Charles Adigwe to stop the police from executing the directive on the Police Investigation Report dated October 19, 2020, by Commissioner of Police, Amechi Elumelu, X-Squad Section, FCID, Force Headquarters, Abuja which recommended that the suspects should be charged to court as advised by the Director of Public Prosecutions given the overwhelming evidence of culpability on the part of the suspects.

The officials include Chioma Ekeh, a TD Limited Director and wife of the Chairman, Zinox Group, Stan Leo Ekeh; Chris Eze Ozims, the Company Secretary/Legal Adviser, Zinox Group and TD Limited; Folashade Oyebode, a director of TD, and Charles Adigwe, an accountant with TD.

 

The court ruled that it has no authority to stop the police from performing its lawful duty of investigating, arresting and prosecuting suspects named in a criminal case.

 

The police had on October 30, 2020 invited four officials for interrogation over alleged conspiracy, forgery, and fraud levelled against them in a petition to the Inspector General of Police (IGP) by the Managing Director of Citadel Oracle Concept Limited, Joseph Benjamin.

 

Meanwhile, the Zinox officials approached a Federal High Court in Lagos and filed four different applications seeking the enforcement of their fundamental rights with the aim of stopping the police from investigating and prosecuting them over the matter.

 

In the suits marked as FHC/L/CS/1651/2020, FHC/L/CS/1646/2020, FHC/L/CS/1650/2020 and FHC/L/CS/1644/2020 with an application each seeking a declaration that the Police invitation and investigation based on a fresh petition by Mr. Joseph Benjamin and Citadel Oracle is sub judice and unconstitutional since there are pending matters in court already.

"A declaration that the continuous threats of arrest, detention and harassment of the Applicant by the police, particularly officers of the X-Squad Section of the Force Criminal Investigation Department headed by C.P. Amechi Elumelu is sub judice, illegal, unlawful, and highly prejudicial to the pending court cases.

 

 

"A declaration that the police have no authority to invite, investigate, arrest, detain and harass the applicant based on a fresh petition by Citadel Oracle in respect of the facts bearing the same nature is pending in different court.

 

"The suspects are also seeking the order of the court for an injunction restraining the Nigeria Police and C.P. Amechi Elumelu either by themselves, servants, agents or privies or whosoever is acting on their behalf from inviting, interviewing, detaining and harassing the Applicant in respect of the fact already pending in the court.

 

"An injunction also restraining Citadel Oracle Concept Ltd. and Joseph Benjamin either by themselves, servants, agents, or privies on whosoever act on their behalf from petitioning the Nigeria Police against the Applicant in respect of the matter having duly been previously investigated by the Nigeria Police and the EFCC at the instance of Joseph Benjamin and Citadel Oracle Concept Ltd. resulting into the two pending criminal cases in court.

 

 

"An order compelling Joseph Benjamin and Citadel Oracle Concept Ltd. to pay a sum of N500 million only on each of the four cases as damages for the continuous investigation of the Nigeria Police to arrest and harass the Applicant.” 

 

Other reliefs sought include An Order setting aside the Police Interim Report with reference number CB: 4099/X-SQD/D.DEPT/T.2/FHQ/ABJ/VOL.4/116, dated October 19, 2020, and signed by C.P. Amechi Elumelu X-Squad Section, FCID, Force Headquarters, Abuja.

 

Benjamin had on July 3, 2014, petitioned the then Deputy Inspector-General (DIG) of police in charge of Force Criminal Investigation Bureau (FCIB), Solomon Arase, accusing top officials of Zinox Group and its affiliate, TD, of hijacking N170.3 million contract awarded to his company by the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) in 2012.

 

In the petition, Benjamin alleged that the officials conspired with Onny Igbokwe, the managing director of a Port Harcourt-based IT company, Ad’mas Digital Technologies Limited, and Pirovics Engineering Services Limited, and his ally, Princess Kama, to commit the crime.

 

He accused Kama of facilitating the fraud by pretending to be representing Citadel Oracle during the bid for the contract.

Also, Benjamin named Folashade Oyebode, a director of TD, and two staff members of Access Bank Plc, Obilo Onuoha and Deborah Ijeabu, as the other suspects in the crime.

 

The businessman alleged that the suspects forged his company’s documents, including a board resolution dated December 18, 2012, used in opening a fake account with Access Bank into which FIRS paid the contract money.

 

In addition, Charles Adigwe, TD’s accountant, was also accused of being a party to the fraud, for handling the disbursement of various sums from the fake Access Bank account to other parties linked with the fraud.

 

Although the Special Fraud Unit (SFU) of the police in Lagos investigated the allegations in the petition, some interested parties within the police refused to release the original case file to the then Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Muhammad Diri, for the prosecution of the suspects.

 

 

On May 8, 2015, Benjamin wrote to Arase, who was just being promoted to Inspector General of Police (IGP), to remind him of the pending request by the then DPP, Diri, for the transfer of the case file to his office for the commencement of prosecution.

 

On May 14, 2015, Arase responded with advice that the civil case, No. LD/4335/14, filed by Benjamin in a Lagos High Court against the suspects for alleged frustration of their prosecution over the fraud, should be allowed “to run its full course with a view to preventing a miscarriage of justice.”

 

On December 2, 2015, Benjamin petitioned Vice President Yemi Osinbajo who, on December 21, 2015, directed the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to investigate the matter.

 

However, on June 16, 2016, shortly before IGP Arase’s exit from office, the police in Abuja charged Benjamin to court for alleged false petitioning against the suspects.

 

On July 2, 2016, the police arraigned Benjamin at the Federal Capital Territory High Court, Apo in case No: FCT/HC/CR/216/16 on one count of “false petitioning.”

 

 

Police Interim Report

 

 

In the police Interim Report No: CB:4099/X-SQD/D.DEPT/1.2/FHQ/ABJ/Vol.1/116 of October 19, 2020, obtained by MEDIATRACNET on Friday, confirmed the cases by the Police Serious Fraud Unit and SEB concluded the suspects have cases to answer with regards to their roles in the crime.

 

However, the report said the prosecution of the suspects has stalled as a result of the refusal of Simon Lough, an Assistant Commissioner of Police, to release the two case files in his custody to the FCID legal department.

 

The report signed by Amechi Elumelu, a Commissioner of Police, in charge of the X-Squad Section, FCID, Force Headquarters, Abuja recommended that given the overwhelming evidence of culpability of the suspects, it was imperative that Simon Lough should immediately withdraw the case against Benjamin and transfer the case file to X-Squad for the suspects to be charged in accordance with the legal advice by the DPP.

 

Rather than abide by the recommendations, Lough opted to represent the police in the fundamental human rights application filed by the top officials of Zinox Telecommunications and TD against the police attempt to prosecute them as suspects in the crime.

 

EFCC arraigns two of seven suspects

Meanwhile, the EFCC, following its investigations of the allegations in the petition by Benjamin against the suspects, also confirmed their culpability in the crime.

 

However, the anti-graft agency decided to charge only two of the suspects, Igbokwe and Kama, to court with the crime.

 

The charges filed against the duo were based on a petition its prosecutor, Jude Obozuwa, claimed suggested the suspects committed the fraud based on a fake Board resolution from Benjamin’s company dated December 14, 2012, and not the real one dated December 18, 2012, in the original petition, which was admitted in court and used in conducting forensic analysis of the signatories.

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